The article “Teaching Treaties as (Un)Usual Narratives: Disrupting the Curricular Commonsense” by Jennifer Tupper and Michael Cappello discusses the teaching of treaties in Canada. I want to teach about treaties not because it is mandated, but because it is a subject that few people understand, yet jump to nasty conclusions about and remain ignorant. I did not receive very much teaching about treaties, and nothing comes to my mind when I try to remember a treaty class. I want my students to understand the special circumstances in our province that brought us to treaty agreements so that they understand each other and the development of our country. We are all treaty people because we are Canadians and we made an everlasting agreement; however, few white people realize that they are treaty people.
Dominant colonial foundational stories of white society are landmarked, but those foundational stories involving First Nations people are not. Another reason I want to teach about treaties is because I feel that students (and many adults too) view separate courses, such as Indigenous Studies or Native Studies, as less important, especially when students must “choose” which is better for university. I say “choose” because often those courses are backed with a subject that is mandatory to graduate or for university. The typical view is that these separate courses should teach treaties, and not other classes.
White cultures are dominate while others are labeled with “cultural difference” — this is our excuse for any failures and the solution is to blame the student for not “getting” what we mean. This attitude almost tells people “don’t bother with non-white people”. The “colonized” group (here Aboriginals) is portrayed by the “colonizer” (the white superiors). This allows us to change history by omission and create a one-sided version of events, and blame language barriers as excuses for not following through with treaty agreements, like how the idea of sharing the land became giving up the land. The truth is we tried “Canadianizing” First Nations people to fit the Euro-Canadian vision; in short, we tried to assimilate them. I do not believe that is what the treaties had planned. Teaching treaties approaches racism and racialized identities and with the growing population of Aboriginal peoples it is now more important than ever to end racism. Ideas and ambitions of First Nation signatories should be illuminated for historical accuracy. I want to use the treaties as proof for correcting history, and treaties are not historical artefacts – they are ongoing.
I want to teach treaties in a way that allows understanding of the mistreatment of treaties. White dominance and privilege was paid for by First Nations and Aboriginal subordination. I especially liked the quotation: “the telling of other stories, particularly from the perspective of non-whites, is necessary if we are to interrupt the commonsense understandings” (p. 12). In order to remain respectful when teaching treaty education we must remember we are teaching about the treaty, not the culture.